Defending human rights in their respective countries

Article, 09.12.2016

Respect for human rights is one the SDC’s top priorities – and essential for the development of the most underprivileged sections of society. In half a dozen countries, the SDC is helping to strengthen national institutions that were created to protect citizens from violations of their fundamental rights. Three human rights defenders tell their stories.

A human rights defender briefs members of the Afghan army who are dressed in military uniform.
One of numerous functions performed by national human rights institutions around the world is to raise awareness among army and police personnel about the need to respect human rights. © AIHRC

Decent living conditions, access to basic services (health, education, hygiene, justice), no exposure to degrading or inhuman treatment, the right to participate in public life and to speak freely – fundamental human rights cover a very broad spectrum. The SDC supports these rights through the projects it finances worldwide – such as making basic schooling modules available to all, or enabling the poorest to become involved in decision-making at local village level.

The SDC also promotes citizens’ fundamental rights by supporting legislative reform processes and helping to facilitate openness in government. Strengthening of the media and civil society is another expression of this approach. In addition, the SDC directly assists the national human rights institutions of half a dozen countries.

From Afghanistan to Qatar

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bolivia, the occupied Palestinian territory, and even Qatar, the SDC supports various bodies including committees or commissions, ombudsmen and research institutions. Every national context has its own characteristics, but the basic objectives of national human rights institutions are the same from country to country.

  • Defending any citizen whose fundamental rights have been violated, and fighting to ensure that the perpetrators of violations are held accountable for their actions
  • Observing the human rights situation, collecting any useful data on the ground, and informing the authorities and public of instances of discrimination
  • Helping government bodies to bring national legislation into line with international standards on human rights
  • Informing citizens of their rights and on how to uphold them

The SDC devotes an average of CHF 2.3 million per year to strengthening the national institutions that its supports – an amount that covers the funding allocations for each institution and, in certain cases, the funding required to provide these institutions with technical experts.

Furthermore, cooperation offices and Swiss embassies are engaged in political dialogue within the countries in question in order to underpin the legitimacy and independence of these bodies. Switzerland is also helping to ensure that international human rights norms and standards are put into practice. As a result, hundreds of courageous human rights defenders are able to carry out their remit on a daily basis.

Mohna Ansari, 40, Nepal

Mohna Ansari
Mohna Ansari ©International IDEA

The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal employs around 210 staff members who are committed to defending the interests of the most underprivileged citizens in the areas of health, education and nutrition. Mohna Ansari was appointed in 2014 as one of the institution’s commissioners.

What issue is mainly keeping you busy at the moment?

In addition to visiting detention centres, the socioeconomic welfare of marginalised citizens is a priority for us. In recent months, I visited many districts to meet with the earthquake-affected villagers who lost their homes and source of income in the disaster. Unfortunately, the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts have been very slow.

Alaa Nazzal, 42, Occupied Palestinian Territory

Alaa Nazzal
Alaa Nazzal © ICHR

The SDC co-funds the national Independent Commission for Human Rights of the Palestine Authority with an annual contribution of CHF 400,000. The institution primarily investigates violations of citizens’ human rights committed by Palestinian officials. Alaa Nazzal is director of the West Bank North Office.

What issue is mainly keeping you busy at the moment?

We are working on a fact-finding mission to determine the circumstances of the killing of two members of the security forces and three civilians in two linked events in Nablus last August. All the necessary testimonies from civilians and from the security authorities as well as all forensic reports have now been gathered.

Ali Jawed Rahman, 34, Afghanistan

Ali Jawed Rahman
Ali Jawed Rahman © AIHRC

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) acts with a constitutional mandate to monitor, protect and promote human rights in the country. The SDC has been supporting the commission since its creation in 2002 after the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the appointment of former president Hamid Karzai. In 2015 the AIHRC managed to secure an “A” status accreditation endorsing the relevance and independence of its activities. Ali Jawed Rahman acts as National Programme Coordinator of the AIHRC’s Human Rights Education Unit.

What issue is mainly keeping you busy at the moment?

There are plenty of issues to be busy with! Among others I monitor the production of new school textbooks under the authority of the Ministry of Education to ensure that their content is in accordance with international human rights standards. Our role is also to try to reinforce the presence of human rights related topics in the textbooks and school curricula in general.